In yesterday’s post, I posited that as Paul laid out some of the more extreme ways that people have chosen to follow the Way of Jesus, he had in mind only one real extreme: the extreme of love. While 1 Corinthians 13 gets regular airplay at wedding ceremonies, the sort of love that Paul is talking about here isn’t the gooey romantic love of the wedding day. It is more the ongoing, life-giving love of every day that follows.
During wedding rehearsals, as we go over the questions and vows that the couple will engage, I note that television shows and movies are fairly comfortable with the Episcopal marriage rite, but that they have missed a key part of the liturgy. During the betrothal portion of the service, the Officiant asks the couple “Will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?” The pop culture answer to those questions is “I do,” but the truer answer is “I will.” “I can get you to agree to anything on your wedding day,” I say to the couple, “but I’m much more interested in the life you’ll live after the event is over.”
Paul’s extreme of love is focused on a lifetime of living in community. The love that he describes to the Christians in Corinth is a “more excellent way” than the bitter disputes that have been dividing the community heretofore. This love, if it is going to change the world is a love that must be patient and kind. It must be a love that doesn’t seek its own gain, but rather cares for the greater good. It must be a love that doesn’t sweat the small stuff, and endures even when the times get tough. This love which can never end can come only from the Creator of the Universe, the inventor and perfecter of agape love, who showed us that love in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his only Son.
The extreme of love is impossible to accomplish on our own. Human beings are incapable of the sort of patience, kindness, and endurance that the true agape love Paul describes requires. While still in our mortal bodies, we can only see that love through a mirror dimly, but in Christ, we know it is possible. Through Christ, with the help of the Spirit, we grow into that sort of love more and more until that day when we see fully and are fully known. Paul lays out of the Corinthians a more excellent way, a way of extreme love. Give us grace, O Lord, to love as you love us.